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Playoff power rankings: Slotting the 8 QBs still playing

In Sports
January 16, 2024

The top 15 paid players in the NFL this season, in terms of average per year, play the same position.

There’s a reason there’s a different salary tier for quarterbacks. There’s a reason the first two picks of last year’s draft were quarterbacks, and the first two picks of this year’s draft will be quarterbacks. There’s also a reason quarterbacks have won 15 of the last 16 MVP awards.

The final eight teams remaining in the playoff field show how the gap is widening between teams that have a good quarterback and those who don’t. Every team left in the playoffs has a quality quarterback. Even the two who get the most grief among the final eight, Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff, are former No. 1 overall picks who each threw for 4,000 yards this season. Jordan Love and C.J. Stroud were revelations as first-time starters. Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen are almost indisputably the top three quarterbacks in the NFL. And Brock Purdy had better efficiency numbers than all of them.

Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and C.J. Stroud of the Houston Texans will meet again in the divisional round. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The quarterback carousel is going to be as crazy as ever, and for good reason. If you don’t have a quarterback, you’re a step behind and the gap is getting harder to close. There are recent examples of champions who overcame average quarterback play to win a Super Bowl or get very close, but you won’t find one in this field (Mayfield might be the one outlier, but he had 4,044 yards, 28 touchdowns and a 94.6 passer rating this season … not bad. The Buccaneers are also the longest shot left in the playoffs). It might be a while until we see a mediocre quarterback win a Super Bowl again.

The Steelers-Bills game on Monday was a good example of the quarterback gap. The Steelers battled hard to make the playoffs and they do have good players on both sides of the ball. But the Bills were without question the better team. The difference might be as simple as one side had Allen, the other had Mason Rudolph. Switch the quarterbacks and Pittsburgh might have been the division champ winning by 14 at home. If you’re a team like the Steelers, or practically half of the league that’s sitting at home, you have a difficult puzzle to solve in trying to land a top-tier QB.

The NFL had a problem with its product this season. Quarterback play was down, due to injuries, some young players not emerging as hoped and some veterans struggling a bit. There weren’t enough good quarterbacks to have 16 entertaining games each week. But there were at least eight good quarterbacks. Every team that survived to the divisional round has one. That’s no coincidence.

Here are the rankings for the eight starting quarterbacks remaining in the playoff field:

Mayfield is clearly eighth on this list, but that’s not really because Mayfield hasn’t been good this season. He resurrected his career on a one-year deal with the Buccaneers. He had stretches of brilliant play, like posting a perfect passer rating in a game at Lambeau Field. Mayfield struggled in the final two games of the regular season but was sharp in a win over the Eagles. Mayfield wasn’t a top eight quarterback all season, but he’s a fine inclusion in the surviving playoff field.

It’s probably not fair to Goff to have him this low. He has played well since being traded from the Los Angeles Rams. He does have a Super Bowl appearance. He’s consistently underestimated. He’s in this spot because the remaining field of quarterbacks is really strong. It’s also arguable Goff should be ranked a couple spots higher. He did have 4,575 yards and 30 touchdowns after all.

Over the Packers’ last nine games, Love has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 21-1. His performance in a win over the Dallas Cowboys had to be eye opening to anyone who hadn’t been paying attention to Love’s hot streak in the second half of the season. Maybe it’s unfair to rank him ahead of Goff already, but it’s easy to get excited about how he played late in the regular season and against Dallas.

Purdy has taken over as the most divisive player in the NFL. Some think he’s pretty much a game manager who hit the lottery playing on a phenomenal 49ers team. Others think that he’s a big reason the 49ers are as good as they are. He clearly does benefit from great teammates and a fantastic scheme, which makes him hard to rank. Purdy’s production is hard to deny, but which quarterbacks ahead of Purdy on this list would you pick him over?

4. C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans

This is not a normal rookie. It’s remarkable how advanced Stroud is in every aspect. He has played in what amounts to two playoff games (Week 18 was a winner-take-all game at Indianapolis on the road), and in those games he was 36 of 47 for 538 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s a 76% completion percentage, an incredible 11.4 yards per attempt and a ridiculous 149.1 passer rating. Maybe he’s in for a bad game, but it’s hard to predict it. Stroud is already a star.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) will face off against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Sure, Allen can get a little too reckless at times and that leads to turnovers. But no quarterback is asked to do more for his offense. And Allen often delivers. He accounted for 44 touchdowns in the regular season. He made huge plays against the Steelers in a wild-card win, including a 52-yard touchdown run. Allen does more with less than any other quarterback in the NFL, and it’s justified to have him at No. 1 in this list. But it’s a pretty strong field with just eight quarterbacks left.

2. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

Jackson is going to win MVP for the second time, and that’s a fine pick. He’s a special player deserving of being in the elite group that has multiple MVPs. The narrative that Jackson can’t win in the playoffs is overdone but Jackson hasn’t been great in three postseason appearances. He has three touchdown passes and five interceptions. The Ravens are 1-3 in those games. There’s only one way to end the talk of his postseason struggles, and the Ravens have the team to make a deep run. And Jackson is certainly capable of being as great in the playoffs as he has been in the regular season.

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Mahomes did not have a better season than Jackson, Allen or probably Purdy. His supporting cast wasn’t that good, and Mahomes wasn’t great in many games either. For most of the season he was talked up as an MVP candidate and that was ridiculous from Week 1 on. Aside from a 424-yard, four-touchdown game against the Chargers in Week 7, Mahomes didn’t have one game over 306 yards and had just one game with more than two passing touchdowns.

And yet, if we were drafting quarterbacks for the rest of these playoffs, you’d probably pick Mahomes. There would be a good argument to be made for a few others, but Mahomes would be the right choice. And that’s why it’s hard to cross the Chiefs off the list as a possible Super Bowl champion.

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